Soldier Settlement

  • Memorial Park - Soldier Settlers Memorial This memorial acknowledges the contribution of returned servicemen who settled in the area after WW2, taking up farming on government-planned Soldier Settlement blocks.

  • Here are some photos of the early days of the "Settlement"

ABOUT THE SETTLEMENT (Text placed on the Soldier Settlement Memorial)

As World War II was nearing its end in 1945, plans were underway for major projects to create employment opportunities for Australia’s war-weary returning servicemen. Aside from the coming of the railways, nothing has had such an impact on our region as the development of irrigation and the Soldier Settlement Scheme. A wide tract of dry cropping and grazing land, that ran from Cobram in the east to Nathalia in the west, was chosen to be developed into 519 irrigated and highly productive dairy farms and orchards over the coming years. This land, 63,000 acres in size, was compulsorily acquired. A summary of the region’s history and life on the settlement is outlined below.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE: People from the Yorta Yorta and Bangerang nations, occupied the wedge of land between the Goulburn and Murray rivers. They had an abundant source of food and water, making them less nomadic. There was plenty of native flora and fauna to nourish them. Indigenous people have occupied this part of Australia for around 40,000 years. We acknowledge them as the traditional custodians of this land.

SQUATTERS: By the early 1840’s squatters had claimed most of the land in the district. This included the Yarroweyah Run, the Cobram Run, the Moira Run and the Strathmerton Run. These huge runs, about 100,000 hectares in size, mainly ran sheep and some cattle. The squatter paid an annual fee per head as rent.

SELECTORS: The Land Act of 1869 heralded one of the most remarkable transformations seen in Victoria following since the Gold Rush of the 1850’s. In the decade following the passage of this Act huge areas of virtually untouched bushland and plains, once held by squatters, became flourishing acres to be selected. Almost any male over 18 and any single woman over 18 could apply for a licence. During the selection period the Numurkah district became renowned for its quality wheat.

IRRIGATION: Prior to WWII the Victorian Government had commenced the development of the Murray Valley Irrigation District, with the Yarrawonga Weir completed in 1939. Following WWII, the Victorian Government decided to develop some of this area as a soldier settlement scheme. Consequently, there were many farmers displaced from the land that had been selected 60 to 70 years earlier. There was some dissention among these pioneering families, because some had been left with a farm smaller in size. But at least, now they would have guaranteed water because of the new irrigation system.

BLOCK SELECTION: Soldier settlement farms were first advertised in August 1947. Thousands of returned servicemen applied for the farms. There was intensive screening resulting in the blocks going mainly to those with agricultural experience, who had the best chance of success. Settlers were also offered a course at Dookie Agricultural College, if they lacked the necessary farming skills. Approved settlers were given 12 to 15 blocks to choose from, and were asked to rank their choice of block from 1 to 10. The first 40 farms were allotted at Yarroweyah in 1947.

GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE: The government was determined to make this Soldier Settlement Scheme a success, as many previous schemes had failed with many settlers walking off their farms feeling disheartened. To make these farms financially viable the scheme tried to get the farm size right, paid the settlers a decent wage during development and had reasonable interest rates when the settlers entered into a Purchase Lease. Settlers could receive an assistance wage, which was approved for 6 months at a time. This assistance period lasted for several years until the farms became productive. The wage rates in 1954 were: - For a single man: £6 per week, less tax - For a married man with no children: £7. 11.0 per week, less tax - For a married man with dependents: £8.0.0 per week, less tax

TEMPORARY ACCOMMODATION: Settlers occupied their farms as soon as practical. Many families started out living in unlined galvanized sheds or ex-army huts on their blocks, until their prefabricated settlement homes were completed. It took several years for Clements-Langford, which operated out of Numurkah, to construct all the houses. There wasn’t a lot of choice in house design with house designs facing North, South, East or West available. It took several years for roads to be gravelled and for them to compact, so they were passable when wet. Until roads and vehicles became more reliable bread, meat, and other supplies were delivered to the settlement families.

ADMINISTRATION CENTRE: Numurkah was the administration centre for the project. Judging by the amount of correspondence between the Soldier Settlement Commission and the settlers, there must have been many administration staff. Alfred Green and his sons John and Gerry trading as AW Green & Sons constructed most of the concrete block dairies around Katunga, Waaia and Numurkah. Bob and Tom Bisogni built many of the dairies at the Cobram end of the settlement.

THE JOURNEY TO FARM OWNERSHIP: Soon after the settlers occupied their blocks, they signed a Temporary Lease. The main element of this was to pay rental of 15 shillings a week rent. They then progressed to an Interim Lease after the preparation of a Bill of Sale. The process was completed when the Purchase Lease was signed - this took about 5 years for the dairy farms and about 7 years for the orchard blocks. It took this long for the settlers to become financially viable on their farms. The Purchase Lease had terms of about 50 years for the farm to be paid off at a very attractive interest rate. All materials and improvements were included in the final price of the Purchase Lease.

FOOD PROCESSING: There were several options for fruit growers to send their fruit for processing: SPC in Shepparton, Ardmona in Mooroopna and the Kyabram Fruit Preserving Company. These were all existing co-operatives or companies. For dairy farmers there were existing butter factories: Holdenson and Nielsen at Numurkah, the Nathalia Butter Factory and the Shepparton Butter Factory. Kraft opened a cheese plant at Strathmerton. In 1950 the Soldier Settlement Commission supported farmers to raise capital to establish the Murray Goulburn Co-operative, at Cobram.

EDUCATION: The district schools were stretched to their limits by the huge number of children now living on the settlement. Katunga South Primary School was supported by the construction of the Katunga Primary School in 1952. The Numurkah High School was officially opened in 1957. St Joseph’s School and the State School, in Numurkah, were extended to cater for the increased number of students. Schools at Waaia, Yalca South, Nathalia, Strathmerton and Cobram also catered for increased numbers of students. Local bus companies expanded their fleets to cater for extra students who needed to travel to school each day. Some of the bus lines transporting children to and from school were Holmes, Stonehouse and Wannenmacher from Numurkah, Andersons from Cobram and Bohn Elliot from Nathalia.

HEALTHCARE: There was a basic hospital called Penzance in Numurkah which was too small to cater for the huge influx of families. In 1957 the new Numurkah War Memorial Hospital was opened by Sir Edward (Weary) Dunlop, to provide excellent health care for the rapidly increasing population. The hospitals at Nathalia and Cobram were also stretched by the numbers of settlers.

SWIMMING: One of the positives for the families of the settlers was access to the irrigation channels for swimming. There were many townies who also came out and swam in the channels, enjoying the clean water that they didn’t have in the Broken Creek. Road bridges crossing the irrigation channels and drop bars became popular haunts. The children dared one another to swim through the pipes under the roads. Some adventurous ones even created tracks on the channel banks so they could water ski behind a “paddock bomb”. The redfin flourished in the clean channel water and fishing was a very good pastime and source of food.

CONCLUSION: It was a good life growing up on the settlement. It was a family affair, with many women contributing to the farm work, as well as looking after the children and doing the housework. Settlement kids grew up knowing how to milk cows, cart hay, pick fruit and to do so many other farm chores. Sadly, for some who were still struggling to cope with their war time experiences or with farming in general, the challenge proved to be too great. Others took their place. There were tragic suicides and cases of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) a condition which is much better understood today. In total there were 564 settlers who occupied the 519 blocks. The scale of the Settlement Scheme was impressive. Despite early setbacks from flooding and poor drainage, especially on the orchard blocks, dairy farming proved to be more viable over the years. The Soldier Settlers who remained generally prospered and played an important part in their respective communities. Thanks to their resolve, and the foresight of those who supported them, the surrounding townships and businesses flourished in the decades that followed. This memorial is to honour all those ex-servicemen, and their families, who came and took on the challenge of farming in the Settlement.